Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody. My name is Alisha. In this lesson, we're going to talk about some common expressions that use the verb "tell." Let's take a look. Some of these will be phrasal verbs, some of these will be just set expressions that are very commonly used, at least in American English. Let's get started.
Okay. First expression for today is "Tell the difference." "Tell the difference" means to recognize the differences between two or more things. When you're comparing two similar items, we can use the expression, "to tell the difference," to express an ability to identify things that are not the same between two things.
Let's look at an example of how to use this. "I can't tell the difference between the photos." In this example situation, there are two similar photos and there are some points in the photos that are different; but here, the speaker says, "I can't tell the difference," which means I don't know which parts of the photos are different. In other words, these two photos look the same, or we don't know if it's two photos, but these multiple photos, these photos in this group, they all appear the same to the speaker.
The second expression in today's lesson is similar, "to tell something apart," like to tell two things apart, to tell a few things apart. This has the same meaning as "tell the difference." We use this when, again, we're trying to compare two or more things and we're trying to identify the things that are unique, the things that are different. In an example sentence, "Can you tell the twins apart?" This is phrased as a question. Here, we see "tell" followed by the twins. In this case, a twin is used. "The twins" refers to two people who have the same genetic makeup, which means there are two people, sometimes, who have the same appearance. In this case, it's probably two people, siblings, that have the same appearance. The question, "Can you tell the twins apart? " means do you know how to understand the differences between this person and this person? They look the same, but do you know which person is which? This is, maybe, a common question when talking about twins, identical twins. Identical means they have exactly the same features or very close to the same features.
Okay. Let's continue on to the next expression. The next expression, or the next two expressions, come as a pair. We could consider them as a pair. Let's look at the first one. "Tell the truth." To tell the truth. You'll notice that we use the article "the" here. We'll come back to this point in a minute. "To tell the truth" means to give honest information. To give honest information. You're sharing things that are true. You are giving real information, true information, honest information.
In an example, a question. "Why didn't he tell the truth?" Why didn't he tell the truth? In other words, someone did not share honest information, someone did not share true information, someone did what we'll talk about in the next expression. Someone, in my example here, told a lie. In present tense, the expression is "tell a lie." Tell a lie. In this expression, you'll notice we're using "a," not "the." Here, we're using "the" because truth, there is only one truth. "To tell the truth" means to give the real information about a situation, about a conversation, and so on. "To tell a lie," there can be many lies. We can create any information to create a lie. There's no "the" used here. "Tell the lie" is incorrect. Please use "tell a lie" and "tell the truth." "To tell a lie" is the opposite of "tell the truth." To tell a lie to give false information, information that is not true. It's information that is dishonest. People who are dishonest, perhaps, often tell lies.
In an example sentence, "Telling lies can cause trouble." Here, I've got it in the -ing form, to tell a lie, or in general, telling lies. Giving information that is false can cause trouble.
Okay. Let's move along to the next expression, "to tell on somebody." To tell on somebody. This means to report someone's wrongdoing. This is an expression that's very commonly used by children. To tell on your brother, to tell on your sister. This is typically used by kids. Adults don't use it very much unless an adult has done something that's really bad, or even I suppose, a minor offence, and another adult really wants to report that behavior. We can use "to tell on someone." It sounds a little bit childish, though. If someone chooses to report someone else's wrongdoing and they use this expression, "to tell on someone," it sounds a bit childish.
Let's look at an example. "My classmate told on me for starting a fire." My classmate told on me for starting a fire. Now, what's not always explained in these sentences is who the report went to. "My classmate," in this case, "told on me." In other words, my classmate reported me. I did something bad. In this case, I started a fire. My classmate told on me. We don't explain here who receives this information. This is probably a teacher or some kind of authority figure at the school. In these cases, when we use this expression, we don't always include the person that's hearing the report. This just explains something that happened in terms of reporting the behavior, not about who learned about the bad thing that we did. "My classmate told on me." We, sometimes, will include it here, though. For example, "My classmate told the teacher on me for starting a fire." You might hear it used in this way. You might hear the authority figure included in an expression, maybe, about here. "My classmate told the teacher on me," or, "My classmate told my mom on me." That's who heard the information and the person who did it the bad thing. This you might hear from time to time, but it's quite common not to use anything there, just told on me, told on a person, whoever did the bad thing.
Okay. Let's move along, then, to a similar sounding expression, but with a very different meaning. The expression here is "tell somebody off." To tell somebody off. This means to get angry at somebody for bad behavior. You'll notice these two are actually a little bit different. The first one we talked about here, "to tell on somebody," is to report someone's bad behavior. "To tell somebody off," however, means to get angry at someone for their bad behavior. There's not really a report here. It's like shouting at someone. That's the feeling here, "to tell someone off."
Let's look at an example. "His mother told him off for coming home late." In this case, his mother is the person who is angry. The person who is, maybe, getting shouted at is him in this case, a man in this situation, or a boy perhaps. His mother is angry because he came home late. His mother told him off for. "For" shows us the reason. His mother told him off for coming home late. We'll commonly include a "him," or "her," or "me" in this expression between "told" and "off." His mother told him off for coming home.
Okay. Let's take a look at the last expression here. The last expression is "tell time." To tell time. Very common. It means to read a clock. To read a clock. "To tell time" just means to understand the time of day by looking at a clock or something similar. In example sentence, "Children learn to tell time in elementary school." Children learn how to read clocks in elementary school is what this means. While we may not use "tell time" a lot in conversation, we use "tell time" to refer to understanding how to read clocks.
I think that, probably, these expressions at the top except for "tell time" are probably more commonly used in conversation. "Tell time" is also just commonly used for reference purposes. I hope that that helps you.
Okay. These are a few common expressions use the verb "tell." I hope that you found something new here. Of course, if you have any questions or comments, or if you want to practice making sentences with these expressions, please feel free to do so in the comment section of this video. Thank you very much for watching this lesson and I will see you again soon. Bye-bye.


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Tuesday at 06:30 PM
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Wednesday at 04:33 PM
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Hello Midi,

Thank you for the question.

An example of how you would use 'being told off' or 'telling someone off' would be indeed, "My mum told me off for not keeping my room clean."

I hope this is helpful to you.



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Tuesday at 09:14 PM
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hi alisha, how can i make a negative sentence with tell somebody off.

like: my mom tell me off for not keeping my room clean. is it correct?

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Saturday at 08:14 PM
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Hi Sofia,

Thank you for your question. You can access quizzes for each lesson which test your vocabulary knowledge. Furthermore, certain series of lessons offer multiple-choice assignments as well.

If you ever have any questions, please let us know.

Kind regards,


Team EnglishClass101.com

Sofia Sol Chico Cabellos
Thursday at 11:32 AM
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Hi, i have a question, if a update to a premium suscription, does it include some quizzes or exercises?